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Art on referral: Remote delivery in primary and secondary care during the coronavirus pandemic

Holt, Nicola; Baber, Donna; Matthews, Julie; Lines, Rebecca; Disney, Barbara

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Nicola Holt
Associate Professor in Psychology

Donna Baber

Julie Matthews

Rebecca Lines

Barbara Disney


Between July 2020 and February 2021 Fresh Arts at Southmead Hospital and CreativeShift delivered remote arts on referral programmes to over 100 participants during the coronavirus pandemic. A referral pathway was developed with cultural organisations in Bristol, which began in secondary care, where people at Southmead Hospital could be referred to specific Art on Referral groups (for people experiencing chronic pain, chronic breathlessness or cancer). The pathway then continued into primary care and Art on Referral groups at community hubs, and then to ‘move on’ groups and art for wellbeing workshops at museums and galleries, such as the Arnolfini and MShed, Bristol.

The current report describes the impact of engaging with remote Art on Referral interventions which were funded by the Arts Council’s Emergency Response Fund in the early stages of the pandemic. 65 people participated with the quantitative evaluation, 56 of whom took part in weekly online art workshops delivered through Zoom, and nine of whom participated in a postal art intervention due to lack of digital access.

Participants reported having significantly higher levels of wellbeing and feeling lonely less often after participating in the online workshops, but their satisfaction with friendships and relationships did not improve. Further, after making art in the interventions, they reported feeling more content, less anxious, more alert and energetic, and less lonely. Additionally, it was found that people who had the greater improvements in wellbeing across the course of Art on Referral programmes reported that while making art, they felt: connected with the group; had a reduction in anxiety and increased relaxation; and entered an absorbed, concentrated attentional state, focusing on the art making.

These results support the use of remote Art on Referral for supporting people’s wellbeing in primary and secondary care, and suggest this occurs through multiple mechanisms: social bonding; anxiety reduction and ‘the flow state’, attentional absorption. It would be useful to collect more data with specific groups and specific health outcomes in future work (e.g., chronic pain) to examine how Art on Referral meets specific needs in these programmes.


Holt, N., Baber, D., Matthews, J., Lines, R., & Disney, B. (2022). Art on referral: Remote delivery in primary and secondary care during the coronavirus pandemic. Fresh Arts, Southmead Hospital and CreativeShift, Bristol

Report Type Project Report
Online Publication Date Aug 8, 2022
Publication Date Aug 8, 2022
Deposit Date Aug 11, 2022
Publicly Available Date Aug 11, 2022
Keywords Art on referral, wellbeing, art and health, social prescribing, loneliness
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